JOHANNESBURG — Two South African Jewish groups have criticized President Nelson Mandela for meeting here with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as part of his African tour.
Farrakhan, who has referred to Jews as "bloodsuckers" and Judaism as a "gutter religion," was touring Africa to spread the message of the Million Man March he organized last year in the United States.
The march, which attracted some 500,000 African American men, was a call for black men to take responsibility for their own lives and families, and to dedicate themselves to fighting drugs, violence and unemployment in the African American community.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said in a statement that it "would have preferred it if our esteemed president — who is the world symbol of reconciliation and nonracialism — would not have met with Minister Farrakhan."
The Board of Deputies also said it thought Farrakhan would exploit the meeting with Mandela for "his own U.S. agenda" and would seek to use the president's good name "in an effort to add respectability to the cause he is espousing in the U.S. without in any way retracting his past inflammatory rhetoric."
Last week, Farrakhan was in Tripoli, where he secured a pledge from Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy to spend up to $1 billion to increase the influence of American minorities in U.S. elections. As a result of that visit, the U.S. Justice Department may require Farrakhan to register as a Libyan lobbyist.
In a more strongly worded statement than the board's, the South African Union of Jewish Students said: "It is indeed a travesty that a leader who seeks to sow discord amongst various groupings and whose agenda is obviously contrary to the spirit of the new South Africa and its constitution is welcomed by President Nelson Mandela, himself a symbol of the new dispensation."
The student group said it did not dispute Farrakhan's right to visit the country but felt that it was "inappropriate for high-level government delegations to give credence to his unacceptable views by meeting him."
The Board of Deputies, however, also acknowledged that Mandela lectured Farrakhan on tolerance.
The board said it was "comforted" that Mandela told Farrakhan that "it is imperative for all of us to promote religious tolerance and to reject any form of discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex or religious belief."
Mandela said he had agreed to meet with Farrakhan just as he would have consented to meet with any other leader who held "divergent" views.
"I have met with many other people whose views were diametrically opposed to mine," the president stated after the 40-minute meeting with Farrakhan at his Johannesburg residence.
During his visit, Farrakhan did not attack Jews, but did criticize South Africa's whites, saying that they had not sufficiently atoned for the sins of apartheid.
When questioned in a television interview about his past statements about American Jews exploiting blacks, Farrakhan did not deny that he has made those comments. He said Jews had to atone for the conditions of U.S. blacks and help in their upliftment.
Farrakhan also denied at a news conference that he was racist.
"A black person cannot be racist," he said. "You need to have power before you can be a racist."